The Hunger Games follows a sovereign state in the middle of a dystopia, but the question remains whether the rest of the world is in the same condition. Based on the popular YA books series by Suzanne Collins, the four-film franchise was set in Panem, a fictional society controlled by a federal government known as the Capitol. Several outlying districts in The Hunger Games surrounded the wealthy city that housed the Capitol citizens, which provided services and goods in exchange for protection.


Because the Hunger Games books and novels focus on the experiences of Katniss Everdeen, most of the focus on the world is on District 12 in Panem. That’s the part of the world Katniss knows best. In fact, she only mentions other districts in relation to the tributes she faces in the Hunger Games arena. Katniss’ knowledge of the world outside Panem is slim. She only alludes to tragedy befalling the world before she was born, and the readers of the books (or the viewers of the movies) are left to put the pieces of Hunger Games history together.

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The History Of Hunger Games’ Panem In Brief

The districts of Panem on a map in the Hunger Games franchise.

Much of the history of the Hunger Games‘ Panem is unknown. Panem was said to be located throughout North America. Whereas most of the nation resided across the United States, the boundaries spread north to Canada and south to areas in Mexico. While the series first focused on the 12 districts that were forced to participate in the annual Hunger Games event, there was a District 13 in existence. A map of The Hunger Games’ Panem has revealed the locations of each district. For example, District 12, the home of Katniss Everdeen, was located in the northern Appalachian mountain region in what was once the Eastern United States.

The continent entered a dystopian state hundreds of years before the events of The Hunger Games series. As for why modern civilization collapsed, the explanation according to the story was always vague. The franchise referenced a series of ecological disasters and global conflict as a cause for the disastrous event. Based on the minimal information, however, it was presumed that the rest of the planet became uninhabitable, making Panem Hunger Games‘ only surviving civilization.

One aspect that is repeatedly touched on in the series is the idea of nuclear war. When District 13 makes its own treaty with the Capitol, nearly 75 years before Katniss Everdeen fights in the Hunger Games, District 13 has its own healthy supply of nuclear weapons. They won’t hesitate to use them against the Capitol or the other districts if needed. There is a theory among fans then that in the Hunger Games history, perhaps each of Panem’s districts was originally a survivor settlement of a nuclear winter of sorts that then repopulated those territories over time. Panem could have annexed those different settlements, creating a larger country based on those who survived tragic events and needed one another to survive.

Panem Is Thought To Be The Last Living Civilization In The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Katniss and Gale

Though it was not directly stated, there was an insinuation that Earth fell victim to issues like climate change, overpopulation, and destructive wars. At some point, the world’s landmasses changed shape while the sea levels began to rise. The Hunger Games franchise made no direct mention of other nations outside the remnants of North America, leading fans to believe that Panem was the only civilization left. Due to the rising sea levels, the landmass shrunk, and during the focus of the primary tale, Panem held around 4.5 million people.

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It’s surely possible that Panem, Hunger Games’ sole surviving nation, was the only inhabitable continent following the collapse of modern civilization, but it’s important to remember that the Hunger Games series was told from Panem’s point of view. Katniss served as the narrator, but her knowledge of her nation’s history could have been skewed by the Capitol. Katniss is even limited in her knowledge of other Panem Districts. It’s plausible that other societies survived the disastrous events in other parts of the world in similar ways to North America and the creation of Panem. The Hunger Games’ story easily implies that with a lack of travel and communication outside the continent, Panem citizens would have never learned the truth about the outside world.

Songbirds & Snakes Could Explain What Happened To The Rest of the World

Lucy and Snow together in the grass in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

With the movie adaptation of Collins’s prequel book, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, set to arrive on November 17, 2023, there’s now a possibility that the series will directly address the question of what happened to the rest of the world. Since much of the new entry’s story focuses on a young President Snow’s time at the Capitol Academy, there’s a high chance that Hunger Games‘ world history will be more accessible than it’s become by Katniss’ lifetime. After all, if Snow was as powerful a leader as he always seemed, it would make sense if he had more extensive and exact knowledge of the rest of the world’s fate in The Hunger Games series. This could add context and dramatic weight to Panem’s existence.

Snow’s prequel story is set 65 years before Katniss takes a stand in the Hunger Games arena. He’s just a teenager himself, but he becomes a mentor (as part of a school assignment) to one of the 10th Annual Hunger Games tributes, Lucy Gray Baird. What’s interesting about Lucy is that she is from a family of Covey – traveling musicians who have come from outside Panem and travel between the different districts.

According to the novel, the Covey make their living as entertainers, traveling through the time of the First Rebellion against the Capitol. Lucy’s family settles in District 12, but they weren’t originally from there. If they make their living as traveling performers, chances are there are still people living outside Panem, even though the narrative never addresses that. The movie may very well expand the world of the Hunger Games beyond Panem even if the novel left details vague.

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How Suzanne Collins Created Panem And The World Of The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen shooting an arrow in The Hunger Games

According to a 2018 interview with the New York Times, Suzanne Collins came up with the idea for her Hunger Games novels while flipping through channels and thinking about ideas for a potential next book. She was just finishing up work on another one and while watching television came across footage on the news depicting active war zones interspersed with other pop culture programming. She already knew that she wanted to focus on the idea of a just war from a young perspective, but the seeds were planted by watching television.

Collins also recalled the Greek myth of Theseus having a connection to her story “immediately.” The story features seven boys and seven girls being chosen by a lottery system to face off against the Minotaur in the labyrinth, which isn’t all that different from the idea of Katniss Everdeen and the other Hunger Games tributes being pitted against one another in the arena. She credited Mary Renault’s The King Must Die with the idea of the labyrinth being more of an arena than a maze as the teens sent in had to perform for the royalty of Crete. Some of those performances included acrobatics with bulls, which is actually depicted in ancient artwork, indicating that some of the practices weren’t just myths.

Panem’s structure drew less from mythology and more from real-world history. Collins was inspired by the 13 original United States colonies for the 13 Districts of Panem. The name for the country of Panem comes from the Latin phrase, “panem et circenses,” meaning literally bread and circuses, which is the idea of distracting a population with entertainment, which is exactly what Collins has the Hunger Games do in her novel trilogy.

Interestingly, Collins pointed out in the same interview that she developed a lot of material and backstory that didn’t make it into the novels. Collins called the extra Hunger Games history and backstory about Katniss’ family, for example, “illuminating,” but also “a distraction unless it was part of a new tale within the world of Panem.” With Collins delving into prequels for the Hunger Games with the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, perhaps some of that other developed backstory will make it into new novels.

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